Sling TV is a great alternative to cable -- until there's a big live event and then it stops working, repeatedly

For all the hubbub over “cord-cutting,” there are actually very few options available for those who want to watch live events without a cable subscription or TV. And most people I know who would consider themselves cord-cutters use a family member’s Comcast Xfinity login, or something similar, to plug the gap.

But if you really want to cut the cord without existing in a “live” blackout, Dish’s Sling TV is your best bet. There are buzzy “live” offerings from AT&T, Hulu, and others on the horizon, but Sling is the most prominent example, right now, of the “skinny bundle” Wall Street analysts keep saying we are going to want in the future.

Sling’s basic package is $20 per month and includes 25 channels like ESPN, AMC, CNN, and TNT.

“Live” is a crucial piece of the entertainment puzzle, so I decided to see if I could cut cable out of my diet altogether and replace it with Sling, plus Netflix, Hulu, and Sling’s HBO add-on). The verdict: Sling is a promising option for cutting the cord, but right now it’s definitely not ready for primetime.

What was the problem?

I have used Sling for a few months so far, and I’ve had a largely positive experience. I’ve gotten to tune into the news and sports games, catch shows at the exact time they aired, and watch HBO’s back catalogue with relative ease — though the interface isn’t quite as slick as Netflix.

But when I really needed Sling to work, when it was about to prove it could replace TV, it failed — repeatedly.

Here is an incomplete list of events during which I had my viewing interrupted, either for a few minutes, or for the entirety:

  • Several games of the NBA playoffs
  • The “Game of Thrones” season premiere (though the other episodes were fine)
  • Brexit coverage
  • The UEFA Euros

This is bad. It felt like half the major live events I wanted to watch were derailed by technical issues. The channel I wanted to watch wouldn’t load, or it would get dropped. Sling was a great alternative to TV except for the times that I actually felt like I needed a TV, versus simply wanted one.

For $20 per month for me, Sling was a total bargain in terms of the breadth of coverage I would get. I didn’t feel like there were any large gaps in the shows I could watch, bolstering the theory that “skinny bundles” could be a big hit.

But my experience on the tech side, compared to TV, was awful. And until that improves, I can’t recommend Sling as a complete substitute for live TV.

Dish provided this statement to Business Insider:

We are pleased with Sling TV’s streaming improvements since we launched, and we continue to diligently work on providing our customers with the best possible experience. Beyond that, we cannot provide any additional comments.

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